Dreams are not for sale, but you can buy a fantasy for now
Giddah finished swiping a quick message to his mother, a word-flourish to celebrate a difficult sale in another busy week in the office in Dubai. He reluctantly placed his phone on the table-for-two in the restaurant, its black case stark against the white cloth bleached clean for the evening’s entertainment. No message buzzed back. He started at the empty chair ahead of him. Around him the hubbard of the restaurant continued, conversations chattering in happy communion. The waiter had come to fill his glass of iced water for the second time just now, his attempt at a warm exchange still hanging awkwardly in the air. If he wasn’t talking about going to market or finding synergies or any other term from his MBA, he struggled for words. There wasn't much time for human chat while he pursued his dreams of fortune. Still, the struggles of reading business textbooks were best bearable when staring out his highrise apartment, considering the sleek landscape of Dubai, a sky prickled with lances of buildings, each construction costing lives both in deaths of workers and in the dedication of professionals like him.
His relationships at work were purposefully mundane. To close his deals and manage his projects, he kept a professional distance for those who passed through the office. His five years in Dubai was a lot longer than most of his colleagues, something he did not expect to change. But as proud as Giddah’s mother seemed to be at his success in business, he knew she dreamt of grandchildren. What use was money without someone to continue the dynasty his sacrifices were creating?
But meeting a worthy woman was not easy. He had tried one dreamy romance with ‘liquid girl’, a colleague who would threaten to sleep with him one day yet return no texts the next. There was more to her than that even when his busy mind could not yet admit such truths.
Online dating was no better. Professional women seemed absent from that arena, only residing in the rarified spheres of happy families and other circles distance from him and his highrise apartment. Still, a few dates had proven interesting, and he had found himself dating one secretarial girl, Anita, for a few months at least. Always, though, his mother’s voice spoke to him: will she be the one? Will she stick with you?
Tonight seemed to be little different. He was to meet Iman, a quality control manager from Syria. They had exchanged some interesting messages, wishing each other goodnight most days for several weeks now. He wondered how they would connect in person. Waiters walked past him as he picked up his phone again, distractedly scrolling through unread messages CC’d to him from those who wanted his job, or his salary, or at least his favour. Despite the continual scrolling of his thumb, every figure who entered the restaurant snapped his eyes up and away. It was not her. A woman entered the restaurant moved from 'mate' to 'stranger' in moments from detecting her presence, a potential life melting from her in invisible strands as she stepped into the restaurant with another, luckier man. The third time this happened his heart danced as he noticed. She had enterered.
The intensity of his gaze made his guts squeeze hot, his thighs tensing in instant attraction. She looked more beautiful in the flesh than even her pictures, her flushed face framing her firey eyes, her night-black hair darker still than her plush coat. The waiter pointed out Giddah’s table. With strangely tepid steps she began to pick her way through the other lovers in the restaurant. Spying a particularly tricky gap between two chairs, a space tiny thanks to a well-girthed man who laughed too loudly between bites of bread, she retreated towards a slightly longer route, her eyes tracking the marbled floor.
As they finally met she smiled a full close-lipped smile: we meet at last! they both said. She sat down and he began to speak about his day, of the project to-do list that he had worked through, a system he had devised ever since that difficult third year when Ramesh had almost got them all fired through his indecision. She smiled and complimented him, her tired eyes urging him to continue. As he spoke more about Ramesh and his project management system, she fiddled with her ear, a wonderful brown thing that seemed like a beautiful cake, a precious nibble. She tapped her ear in time with his conversation, two fingers typing an unspoken message as he regailed the finer points of his system.
The waiter came back too soon before he could finish his story, handing them both a pair of oversized menus. Turning the pages aimlessly, he tested if she wants a starter, or even a drink. She spoke uncommitedly, her face blocked by the menu, wieldeding it like a shield. His heart dropped and he ordered a wine, the same midrange 80USD bottle of Caymus Napa he often charged to expenses when with a decent client.
At mention of the wine her menu dropped below her mouth and her eyes widened like two moons rising. She says how nice it would be and that it was going to be good night after his hard day. Her mouth opened and she leaned forward, her teeth now bared with the bombast of newly awoken child. Despite not being able to pronounce Caymus Napa, she agreed it was an excellent choice and yes she has always fancied it.
As the waiter pours the test sip into Iman's glass, Giddah fights a fleeting thought -whether she wants him for his money. She is beautiful and smart and clearly likes him. As he begins to apply to his project formula to their burgeoning relationship, her voice fades into the background. She is talking about her dreams to leave Dubai and start a better life. Her voice distracts him from his thoughts. She's beautiful! He will never be able to know whether she likes him from her face alone, Giddah decides. And he doesn’t really care, at least for now.
Her dreams are not for sale, but at least he can buy a fantasy for now.
It will only be ten years from now in a lonely apartment in Canada when Iman has left him that he realises that his dream of love was only bright fragments, and that this beautiful evening in Dubai had dropped into the grim confirmation of his gut’s memory.